Dr. Heather J. Brown and the Concrete Industry Management Program (CIM) at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) have a lot in common. Both are relatively new to the concrete industry, Brown having recently finished her Ph.D. in civil engineering in 2001 from Tennessee Technological University and CIM having started back in 1994; both possess strong educational backgrounds--Brown is working towards her Professional Engineering License (expected in 2005), and CIM is offering a four-year bachelor's degree in Concrete Industry Management with a business administration minor, as well as concentrations in topics such as sales, operations/management, foreign language (Spanish), computer science, technical research, etc.; and both are generating lots of youthful exuberance in an industry that's still—for the most part—an older man's world.

Brown's interest in concrete harkens back to an advisor she had in college who loved concrete and construction. "I worked for him doing concrete research, and I fell in love with concrete," she says. She joined the CIM as an Assistant Professor in August 2001 with five years of material testing and research for the Tennessee Department of Transportation and various other companies already under her belt.

Brown currently teaches four concrete courses: fundamentals of concrete, concrete applications, troubleshooting concrete and a senior concrete lab. She also teaches construction surveying for the department. Being very interested in research, Brown has several projects currently underway utilizing CIM students as research assistants and is actively writing proposals for more opportunities. She is also very active with student organizations including American Concrete Institute, Prestressed/Precast Concrete Institute, National Association of Women in Construction, and African Americans in Concrete.

Among the many elements of the CIM Program that Brown says provide students with an edge above other programs is the fact that an internship is required of every student. "[It] helps in job placement and security, and helps students figure out what they want (or don't want) to do," says Brown. "[They] get maturity out of the internship and learn the business better...and they learn all that before they graduate."

Brown adds that the CIM Program is starting to branch out and involve more parts of the industry. "Ready-mix has supported us from the beginning, and at first, students only wanted to [work in] ready mix," she says. "Now it's well-rounded...more applicable to many options."

Another trend Brown is pleased with is the rise in enrollment. "We're up to 300 students...up from 2 in 1996," she explains. "We'll also have our 100th graduate this semester."

The CIM Program got its start when industry representatives approached MTSU officials about the need for broadly-educated, articulate graduates grounded in basic math and science who were knowledgeable of concrete technology and techniques and able to manage people and systems and to promote products or services related to industry.

As the program expands, there's a need for more locations. "We're going to expand the program to two more colleges: one on the west coast and one in the northeast within the next 2 ½ years," Brown explains.

"We're also developing an online master's degree in concrete construction," adds Brown. "It's an executive master's...somewhat of an MBA in concrete." She says the goal is to get that started in 2005.

"Our three-year goal is to construct a building on campus that's a center for concrete construction," Brown says. "A research center where people can also hold conferences, etc., and we can become our own department." To that end, CIM patrons will introduce a major fundraising campaign to raise money to support the construction of such a facility.

As for what she'd like to see more of, Brown adds, "[There are] not a lot of women in the industry, and I'm one of few. Out of our 300 students, 15 are women." Which means Brown is often giving those women advice. Although she realizes the concrete industry is far from gender blind, Brown says the easiest way to fit in is, "Find your niche."

And as for Brown's niche, right now it's teaching, but as for tomorrow, who knows? "I'd like to jump into the industry at some point...then finally return to teaching." Wherever Brown ends up, she's sure to leave an indelible mark on the concrete industry.

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